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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What Do You Want?

Today's topic of communication has led me to another concept that I feel obligated to discuss.

Many parents make a certain tragic mistake with their children. I would like to see an end to this, and if this post can help educate parents across the world against making this mistake, I would be so pleased.

When I was young, I told my parents frequently that I loved them. My parents would respond in kind - telling me that they loved me too. Young children are very free with their affection, as I'm sure you've noticed from your own small children.

At some point, the dynamics of this exchange changed. I can not tell you when or why this discussion changed; what catalyst inspired my parents to respond in a new and unpleasant way. I can only tell you that their responses did change, and the new response had an incredibly negative impact on our relationship.

As I got older, my expressions of love were met automatically with a single question: "What do you want?" Gone were the days when my parents would respond by telling me that they loved me, too. Gone were the days of innocent expressions of affection.

Here is how this new exchange would go.

Me: "I love you, Dad."
Dad: "What do you want?"
Me: "Nothing. I just wanted to tell you I love you."
Dad: "Yeah, okay, love you too, now - what do you want?" or "Yeah, right. - What do you want?"
Me: Increasingly frustrated and hurt "Nothing. Nevermind."

Now, perhaps there were times when I did tell my parents that I loved them as a preamble to requesting some item or favor. I'm sure I did as this is a common tactic that kids use to get what they want. However, my Dad's response was so automatic, without concern for my intent or my feelings.

Would you like to know what happened?

I stopped! I stopped telling him that I loved him. I stopped talking to him about pretty much anything. I just stopped. He failed to accept my love. He failed to accept me. I gave up. I became increasingly withdrawn from my parents because of their obvious refusal to accept my affection. I was hurt more than I could ever explain to you here, in these written words.

I would like to be able to tell you that our relationship recovered from that error. I would like to tell you that we both got past it and moved on to a more accepting and open relationship. I would like to, but I can't. Truth be known, my parents have no clue just how much damage they caused to our relationship by reacting in this manner.

While my Dad does not ask me what I want these days if I happen to tell him that I love him (which is very rare), the damage that was done so many years ago is still there deep inside my soul. I still remember that he refused to tell me that he loved me. Instead, he insisted that I must secretly have some ulterior motive for expressing my affection.

So, when Gibson was 6 yrs old and constantly vowing his love for me, a friend of mine overheard him and told me that I was supposed to ask him what he wanted. My response to her - somewhat aggressively - was that I would NEVER do that to my child. I went on to explain to her why.

I have no idea if she took that conversation to heart or if she will continue in the path of her own parents by asking her own children what they want when they tell her they love her. She has to decide on her own what path she will take.

For me - my children will never be met with that question in response to their words of affection. I will always respond by telling them just how much I love them, too.

I hope after reading this, that you will respond the same way to your children, and if you happen to realize that you have already made this mistake --- go apologize. Apologize completely and thoroughly and explain that you simply did not know how hurtful this could be. Be sure your child knows that you do, in fact, love her very much.


Petula said...

Great post! Parents often forget expressions of love through words and actions as their children get older. It's great that you realize the pain of your experience so that you don't repeat it with your own children. Thanks for sharing and giving parents a wake-up call. Hopefully they'll hear it.

Liss said...

Oh it's the other way round in my house. I tell my daughter I love her and get "yeah, yeah I know" as the response.
Great post I do believe you are right love should be greeted with love.